Rockaway Surfer’s Unexpected Thriving Food Culture || Food/Groups
It’s morning in the Rockaways. This sliver of sleepy beachfront neighborhoods is officially a part of New York City even though it’s an hour outside of Manhattan by subway. Actually, if you listen close you can hear the jets flying into JFK. This is where New York City meets the Atlantic Ocean. Which is why, if you see someone waking up early, tossing on a suit, grabbing a bag, and running out the door, they’re probably not headed to an office. They’re headed to the beach. The suit is a wetsuit. This is a surfing joke. The Rockaways is home to New York City’s only year-round surf community. And just like the other 8 million people who call this place home, Rockaway surfers love to eat and well. Today we’re meeting up with some born and raised Rockaway surfers, Mike Reinhardt and Mike Kololyan. They’re actually in the water right now. But before we go down to the beach, I need another cup of coffee. ‘Cause it’s like, 7 o’clock in the morning. My name is Tracy Obolsky and we’re at Rockaway Beach Bakery. So I was a pastry chef in Manhattan for 9-10 years and as much as I love the hustle and bustle, it got really old and I just kind of got burnt out from all of it. Working in sunlight is a new thing for you. It is – it’s a new wonderful thing and my skin loves it. I’m closed Mondays. So Monday has been my surfing day. Even if it sucks, I’ll paddle out. You know, whether I get thrown around or not, it’s still just better to get out there. Here you are with the ham and swiss everything croissant. This is the thing. This is the thing that I can’t make enough of. They just fly off the shelves. “You got the ham and the cheese thing?” I’m like, “Yeah, I got the ham and the cheese thing.” In the culinary world, you have to really love what you do to do it. ‘Cause it’s not easy. And the same thing with surfing. It’s not easy, you really have to keep at it and put some dedication and commitment. It is still the beach, and everyone’s still gonna be in flip flops and sneakers and have that kind of laid-back attitude. It’s a small peninsula, but we don’t really have that much out here. So I think there’s a little slice for everybody to go around and showcase what they do. Oh, me? To come in? I don’t surf. But let’s meet up at Surf Club later! You guys want to meet at Surf Club? That subway is the A Train. People forget that Rockaway Beach is a part of New York City. We are a beach town and we do have that tight-knit beach town vibe, but you know, it’s pretty urban. My name is Mike Reinhardt, aka “Blonde Mike”, co-owner of Locals Surf School. I’m Mike Kololyan, and I’m “Brown Mike”. Today, we’re at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club, it’s one of our favorite local hangouts. This is practically my second home. I walk in and I’m like ‘Aw, sh*t they see me again here.’ I took the liberty of ordering a feast for us, guys. I got three types of tacos, we got the fish tacos, we got the tofu, and we got chorizo. We bring our students here all the time after every lesson, it’s routine you know. They come out for a surf lesson, they get that experience, and then it’s like ‘Ok, what next’. Well you gotta come to the Rockaway Beach Surf Club, just to celebrate Rockaways and surf culture, and everything, the locals and Rockaway Beach. We were born here, he’s got strong family ties here, my family has been here over 100 years. You know, we’re from the neighborhood and we grew up here. People think of surfing like Australia, Hawaii, Indonesia, California, whatever. But it does get really good here, you just gotta be committed, you have to be willing to be on it, watch the forecast. Whether it’s a hurricane or blizzard, we’re always out there. This is New York City, it’s a melting pot…plenty of cool ideas coming into the Rockaways, and then developing and mixing into surf culture ideas. Business owners like us, and restaurant owners, they have to try harder to make a bigger impact. It’s important that people keep it fresh and vary what they’re doing and everyone succeeds as a whole because there are more people coming to check out all the different things that Rockaway has to offer. So if I’m going for tacos, I come to Tacoway Beach here at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club. I know that part. I’ve heard that there’s some food that’s not typical beach food, where should I go for some of that? Uma’s up the block. Uzbekistani food, you’d never expect it for a beach community, but somehow it works and it’s pretty good. I’m Crazy Legs Conti, I’m mostly known as a competitive eater, particularly in Coney Island, the Nathan’s Hotdog contest. I’ve been coming out to the Rockaways the last couple summers. Even if I was bartending in the city, I’d close the bar at 4 AM, and then I would hop on the train, come out, sleep a couple hours, and then spend the next night out here, usually barbecuing. I have lots of friends out here who are here year-round in the surf community. And the place has a real sense of community, whether it’s because they’ve weathered Hurricane Sandy or because surfing is such a cult-like activity that involves dedication, I’ve noticed that the food establishments that have popped up are as equally dedicated and unique. They want to be a destination where, you’re not going to have a forgettable meal in the Rockaways. Surfing and drowning look the same when I do them. It’s like, I’m just flopping around. Very difficult, hard on the system. But I think, surfers go out early in the morning. It’s a return to the womb. It’s like the ocean, and mother nature, but it’s also incredibly cold out there. The dumplings here are the allegory for me. So like, the pelmeni, these are just warmth and heartwarming and they bring you to life. Yeah, these are really good. These are expertly seasoned, you get this almost like fresh-cut grass, and beautiful dill. – One of the things, like when you come out and like ‘Oh, Uma’s got great dumplings, oh I know dumplings’, well a lot of people think of potstickers, like pan-fried dumplings or even shumai, or whatever, for people who aren’t familiar with anything beyond Chinese-style dumplings, this is like a whole revelation. When you’re here, you understand that this is the way it’s been prepared for thousands of years, and this is the way you’re supposed to enjoy it. Have you seen them when they make the hand-pulled noodle? It’s a mathematical improbability. They start with this lump of dough, and what looks to be this game of cat’s cradle. Somehow they’re able to separate it into a recognizable pasta form. Which I find amazing. Really vegetative and elemental and earthy…yeah this is perhaps the perfect dish. -It’s amazing that the community is able to sort of like patronize these places and keep them going through what would otherwise be a very down time. There’s a comraderie that exists in the Rockaways between businesses and business owners where everyone wants success for eachother, and that’s also kind of a rarity. Obviously being exposed to the elements, Hurricane Sandy was a terrible calamity, and caused a huge amount of damage, but the way that the community rebounded, the way that people volunteered, the way that people felt part of something bigger, so I think what you’re getting is, you’re getting something authentic. Not everyone can afford to even visit the Hamptons. But everyone who can afford a Subway fare can come to the Rockaways. People of every race and color, it’s accessible. It’s a way that, even if you’re in the city, in the Bronx, you’re in Brooklyn, you can come to the Rockaways and feel like this is what the beach is supposed to be like.